Woody: Waltrip Tribute Well-Deserved, Overdue
Larry Woody | Senior Writer
In 1973 Darrell Waltrip was denied the Rookie of the Year Award because of his sandpaper personality.
Fast-forward almost four decades, and I was starting to feel that DW was getting a similar snub by the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
It took three tries but he finally made it – Darrell was among the five new members recently announced – and it’s well-deserved. With the possible exception of Dale Earnhardt, nobody in the sport’s modern era has contributed more on and off the track than Waltrip.
He not only won three Cup championships and 84 races, he did it at a critical juncture when TV was just starting to take notice of stock car racing. Darrell, glib, smooth and entertaining, was the perfect person at the perfect time to usher NASCAR into the nation’s living room.
Richard Petty remains the sport’s all-time fan favorite, but the majority of Petty’s fans back in The Day were already confirmed racing fans. Darrell introduced the sport to a whole new legion of folks who never had the least interest in watching cars run in circles.
Most of them nurtured a stereotyped notion about stock car racing and racers: semi-literate moonshine runners with bad teeth and bad habits.
Suddenly there was DW with his stylish haircuts, golf-pro wardrobe and suave persona, chatting
before the cameras as glib as Johnny Carson.
Perhaps more than any single person, Waltrip altered the unfavorable public perception of stock car racing.
Granted, it wasn’t all charm. DW had an edge. He didn’t hesitate to “stir the pot,” as he called it, picking at his competitors and nipping at NASCAR’s heels. He was bold and brash and at times shamelessly self-promoting. They didn’t call him “Jaws” for nothing.
But that swagger played well during that anti-authority era and lots of fans found it refreshing. While drivers in the past had cow-towed to NASCAR, Darrell mischievously delighted in giving the hierarchy an occasional wedgie.
He was the sport’s resident rebel, always being called into the principle’s office.
And for that reason he was denied the ’73 Rookie of the Year Award, even though everyone knew he clearly deserved it. Back then the rookie award was based on subjective criteria – including congeniality – and DW had ruffled too many sensitive feathers.
Waltrip was the scratch on NASCAR’s vinyl record.
The rookie award went to Lennie Pond, a fair driver whose pleasant personality and mild manner played better in Daytona.
After Darrell was skipped over in the first two Hall of Fame classes I was afraid the voters might still be letting his past abrasiveness overshadow his incredible accomplishments, including his ongoing work as a TV commentator and unofficial role as goodwill ambassador.
Thankfully, that didn’t happen this time. Darrell’s finally in and the Hall of Fame – like the sport itself – will benefit from having him.
– Larry Woody can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org Comments